Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Moving Swiftly On - handling the baggage of transition.

As my earlier post may possibly have suggested, Greenbelt matters alot to me. 
So much so, in fact, that being invited to contribute to a panel at this year's festival had much the same impact as a receiving a sign of approval from someone much loved and admired...or (for those who like such things) an O.B.E.! My silver wristband seemed ridiculously precious and the thrill of walking into the CONTRIBUTORS' LOUNGE (gasp!) was so great that it took me til Sunday to actually have the courage to do so.

Of course, the only reason that I had the courage to offer myself as a contributor at all (contributors, after all, are Seriously Grown Up People, whom other people have heard of and to whom they are prepared to spend time listening) is because I have some rather splendid and more courageous friends. And so it was that on the Sunday evening I found myself leaving Grace Petrie's set on the Canopy stage rather earlier than I would have wished, in order to appear in the Living Room, as calm and adult as possible...

Together with the aforementioned Splendid Friends I had already planned the overall shape of our here's the gist of my contribution - though the fun of the evening, from our perspective, was the opportunity to bounce off one another and to say things that we hadn't planned at all. Thank you Sara, Claire & Emma for making it all so easy.

  1. What did you find the most unexpectedly difficult part of the change you've just made (what are the things that crept up on you and made you cry?) 
The big difference in this move was that it was, unlike the move at the end of curacy, one I had chosen. In other words, have been intimately involved in the joys and sorrows of a community whose self confidence was never particularly high, I was deliberately walking away…
This was hard enough in itself – as a wise colleague said, There would never be a good time to leave that parish – but what compounded it for me was the necessary secrecy about the process. 
I spent what the parish thought was an autumn break hiding at a friend’s house writing an application…
In the week before Christmas, when I should actually have been leading 1001 carol services I dropped out of circulation in order to attend 2 days of interviews, and I knew I had been appointed just a few minutes before walking into the end of term service for my much loved church school…but could tell nobody - NOBODY in my congregations. 
To say that I felt like an adulterous wife would be an understatement – and those weeks between appointment and the clearing of DBS checks, medicals etc seemed like the longest of my life.

Later, I was overwhelmed by the sadness of leaving behind the ordinary, everyday things of ministry which I had handled and interacted with unthinkingly almost every day. On Holy Saturday, during the Grand Annual Spring Clean of the church, I found myself reduced to helpless tears as I cleaned the Paschal Candle stand -and thought about those babies I had baptised, whose continuing stories I would not be part of, those bumps whom I would never get to know...and the reality of departure hit home with a vengeance.

  1. What was actually easy, but you were you expecting to find difficult? 
Following on from my response to the last question – for me the easiest thing turned out to be telling the congregation. They were all uncompromisingly delighted and excited for me at what they saw as a promotion to a Cathedral job and, I think, genuinely proud that “their vicar” was going on to something bigger and, they presumed, better. Though one Warden told me later that she had gone from the meeting when I told her of my new job and cried for 2 days, she didn't let on at the time but was all encouragement and congratulations, bless her. 

3. How have you been able to "create a good letting go?" What would have made it easier? What would you do differently? 

This was my 3rd experience of letting go during this journey of ordinatnion - and by far the easiest. I think this was because we actually acknowledged what was being left behind and, inspired by a friend, created a farewell service that was in some ways a mirror-image of of the service that happens when a new priest arrives in a parish. Thus, during the service I not only gave back my keys to the children of the parish, who placed them on the altar, but also formally handed over to my colleagues the "cure of souls" which I had received from the bishop - whilst making a new commitment to continued prayer for the community I was leaving.
When I left my curacy, none of that happened. I had a very lovely farewell service and party, I got to preside and preach, and to respond to the many generous things that were said about me - but there was nothing to recognise the change of relationship that was going on, or helped me to deal with the process of uprooting that whole community from my heart. 
The scars were real and painful - but this time, though I wept buckets, and miss many things and many many people dearly, I found myself able to move forward, knowing I had ended as properly as I could, and that the things I was leaving behind were being formally and properly received and looked after

4. What would you do differently? 
In a way, I think I've answered this already. I changed my approach to letting go, and made it easier for myself, and perhaps for others, by making space to formally hand back the people I had loved and journeyed with...which made this leave-taking the best so far.
The other thing that I would do differently is to avoid too long a gap between jobs. 2 weeks is a rush, 3 is fine -but 4 gave me just long enough to lose all confidence that I could possibly manage the work that lay ahead...I felt that I was spending a week gazing into the abyss before jumping - which is never a good idea!

Our prepared questions were followed by others from the floor - and I was amazed and delighted by the way strangers stopped me to continue the conversation for the rest of the weekend. Transition is the hardest stage of labour, the bit where one decides that actually, we won't bother to have this baby today (the babe usually arrives in short order after such decisions)...and it's not easy even when it is chosen and prepared for so maybe, having agreed initially that our topic was "of no possible interest to anyone who is not involved in ministry in the C of E", there was more use in our discussions than I had dared to hope.

The thing that I didn't say during our conversation, though it was always hovering on the edge of my thoughts, is that all these leave-takings are, of course, a preparation for our final departure. No matter how much I may long to be ready, the truth is that I am almost bound to leave some unfinished business. My desk will not be cleared, nor my to do list completed and it is the simple and unlikely things that I will miss most as I take my leave.
The work of liturgy in making sense of those goodbyes is one of its most important functions - and as priests we tread this path beside so many. It is no longer popular to talk about preparing for a good death - but to be ready to move on, travelling light and abandoning excess baggage is surely part of our discipleship


UKViewer said...

Thanks for such a heartfelt and frank disclosure of the pain of leaving and transition.

I have had many leavings in my life. In the Army were were uprooted every two or three years, so it became a way of life and quite matter of fact.

When I left a parish for the first time, after nearly six years of active lay ministry there, it was heart breaking. The friends that I'd made there were wonderful and understood the call that drove me to be elsewhere, but it didn't help with the heartbreak.

I left it a full six months before I was able to face going back without tears (my SD lives in the parish) and bumping into people was full of hugs and tears and interest in what I was doing now. It shows that those relationships continue, even though we've parted our ways.

I've even been invite back by the new Vicar to lead a service of Remembrance with one Church in the Benefice where I was welcomed and built a very close relationship with the church wardens and had the privilege of leading their service since 2008.

Leaving a parish was somehow radically different from the transience that is military life. You're leaving friends, who will become lifelong friends, while in the military life I led (not in a Regiment where we moved together) posted from unit to different unit or theatre in the UK or overseas. you didn't normally build those close relationships that you build in normal community or parish.

It's been hard to adjust, but the welcome I received here is making it so much easier and I'm not starting over as it's actually closer to home and I have something to contribute which is of value and is valued.

God works his Grace out in ways that we can't imagine, and th joy is finding him so often in the little things that happen day to day.
Thanks be to God.

Amy+ said...

I have other friends who were there for the festival and I always wonder if y'all ever cross paths! It makes me smile to think of it.
Thank you for the frank naming of feeling like an adulterous spouse. That was exactly why I could not look yet in my last position - it just felt wrong. I think I will be braver next time. The time off in between calls is tough in some ways and blessings in other ways.
Love the picture of you all in the living room!